Asian RJ faces at least one year delay

 - December 1, 2006, 6:29 AM

China’s long-planned ARJ21 regional jet, which was supposed to enter commercial service in 2008, is now certain to be delayed by at least one year.

The redesign of some systems, a fuselage stretch, a plan to use more composite materials to reduce the airframe’s weight and assembly line issues have been attributed to the cause of the delay. At the same time, poor response from Chinese airlines and the international market is said to be another issue. The program has been backed by $663 million in funding from the Chinese government.

China’s Avic I Commercial Aircraft Co. (ACAC), which is responsible for the ARJ21 program including marketing, has to date received only 41 orders since its launch in early 2003. All of these have come from China with 20 accounted for by the Shenzhen Finance Leasing Co., as well as Shandong Airlines (10), Xiamen Airlines (six) and Shanghai Airlines (five).

ACAC has forecast ARJ21 sales to hit 500 aircraft–350 within China and 150 from the international market over the 20-year program. In particular, the state-owned company had expected to receive at least 90 orders by the fourth quarter of last year–all from China.

Despite the poor response from Chinese airlines, ACAC (Stand A13318) remains confident it will achieve or even surpass its target of 350 orders from the local market. The company now expects orders to come from new private airlines that are being established across China.

The ARJ21’s 15-month certification process–originally slated for the fourth quarter of this year, will now not start until next year.

So far, development has involved seven factories in the Avic I stable with Xian Aircraft Industries Group (XIAC), responsible for the fuselage and wings, and Shanghai Aircraft Co., which will assemble the aircraft, taking the lead. Other local participation comes from Chengdu Aircraft, which is manufacturing the nose section; Shenyang Aircraft the engine pylon and vertical stabilizer; and Jinan Special Structure Research Institute assisting with composite materials. XIAC is China’s main test and evaluation center.

Two ARJ models are planned–the -700 with a seating configuration of up to 90 in a two-class layout, and the -900 for up to 105 passengers, although this may now have been increased given that the -700 has been stretched. Building of the larger model will depend on market demand. There also are plans for a freighter model and quick-conversion variants. Still in the evaluation process is a business jet version called the -700B, which will feature additional fuel tanks and an exclusive interior with up to 20 seats.

The ARJ21 will look conspicuously similar to the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 with the same three-plus-two seating configuration. With a cruising speed of Mach 0.78 at an altitude of 35,000 feet, the ARJ21 will be equipped with a Western flight deck and operating systems. General Electric is supplying the 18,000-pound-thrust CF34-10A powerplant, which could be assembled in China (see box), while the U.S. group’s subsidiary, Middle River Aircraft Systems, has been contracted to provide the nacelles. The twinjet’s wing design is based on work by the Ukraine’s Antonov Design Bureau.

International Partnership

Hamilton Sundstrand will supply and integrate the power and control systems. The contract includes the ARJ21’s electrical power and primary power distribution system, an APS 2300 auxiliary power unit and emergency ram turbine, a complete high-lift actuation system (including flap and slat actuators), drive-train, power drive units and controllers. Rockwell Collins will be the primary avionics supplier and systems integrator.

Honeywell and Parker Hannifin have jointly developed the primary flight control system and the latter is also providing fuel and hydraulic systems. Liebherr Aerospace of Germany will supply the landing gear while Liebherr Aerospace-Toulouse provides the cabin-in-air and air-conditioning system. The company will also provide the wing-deicing and bleed-air systems. Goodrich will supply the tires and brakes, as well as lighting. Canada’s CAE has signed a contract to develop an ARJ21 full-motion flight simulator which will be installed in Shanghai.

Contracts awarded to Western supplies are worth close to $6 billion, with GE’s share expected to be near to $3.68 billion. U.S. and European suppliers account for about two thirds of the aircraft value.